“In childhood I was silenced by control, fear, shame and conflict.
It took decades for my voice to be sounded.” Meridel Rawlings
Life begins in the family. But in my family, there were diseased individuals who plundered my childhood. Now, thankfully, they no longer have any power to define who I am. I was that small child who cringed inwardly when in their presence. With quiet determination, I learned to refuse their ‘mind-set’. I coped by being ever alert and running when I had to; sadly, I was not always successful. It took almost four decades until I began to experience wholeness. My life, broken by generational sexual abuse is today proof that one seed properly planted and tended can and will grow in time to bear much fruit. The very thing that could have killed me became the spring board to my life’s work.
Do you need to stand up and shake the dust off of your feet? I did! One may endure serious maladies due to the circumstances of ones birth; but it does not have to last forever. When time and circumstance create an avenue for change, take it! Never stop moving in the direction of your own liberty and life.
Lets begin with my Dad’s birth. He arrived on a scorching August afternoon in 1916. That was 101 years ago in the wild west frontier town known as Calgary, Alberta Canada. Some of his Scots, black Irish, English and Swiss ancestors arrived in North America via sailing ships back in the 1700’s before Canada and the USA were nations.
Dad’s grandparents were a well established English family. They sold their prosperous general store in Eastern Canada at the end of the 19th century. Secure and successful in midlife, but wanting ‘something more’ they decided to go West. The contrast between them and the disenfranchised masses of newly arrived immigrants from the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia and the rest of the world was stark indeed. What they did have in common was the longing for land; acres of land. My family took their finest pieces of household furniture along with them on the Canadian Pacific Railroad westward. Dad’s Grandfather paid $66.00 for 10 acres of the famous rich black loam, for which Alberta, one of the bread baskets of the world, became famous. The only problem was, Grandpa was a businessman, not a farmer. His acreage, far south of Calgary, of gently rolling hills covered with wild grasses was named the ‘bald headed prairie’. He built a fine home, but did not know how to work the land as a farmer. So to augment the family income he joined his family in Calgary and opened up a green grocers market.
My Dad’s Grandmother, was a businesswoman. Upon arrival in Calgary, they bought a suitable building and established a thriving boarding house. She aimed to attract clientele who appreciated convenience and service. Holding tightly to the finer things of life, she encouraged higher education for her daughters. She established her religious traditions, etiquette, and culture in this rough, god forsaken corner of the world. Luxury, was her speciality, and a rare commodity in the lawless West. She catered to specific guests. Welcomed in from dusty roads of travel and pioneering, this comfortable yet tasteful establishment drew many. In fact, the finely appointed rooms, relaxed atmosphere, European cuisine and white table linens became a thriving concern. The hostess, my Great Grandmother never met a stranger. Every bit a lady, she wore corsets and floor length dresses. When leaving the home on business a wide stylish hat decorated with ostrich feathers or flowers completed her attire.
Their third daughter, my Dad’s mother, and my grandmother had grown up as the protected darling of her father. This shy but gifted, well educated young lady, was gentle by nature. Artistic and musical she taught school and gave private music lessons. It was in their guest house that her mother introduced her to a client. The tall ‘Yankee’ dressed with impeccable taste, displayed genteel manners, which hinted at good breeding. Encouraged by her mother, she began a casual friendship with the affable gentleman who frequently stayed over when he had business in the city. His voice carried a lilting charm that both mother and daughter found irresistible, especially when he quoted poetry. He could spin a yarn and was comfortable chatting with the guests. Being eleven years her senior, he seemed very self assured. He was the man of her dreams. Their modest wedding ceremony was held in the front parlor. All house guests were invited. Nine months later, my Dad’s cries shattered the quietness, announcing the arrival of a new generation into this family of Jewish merchants.
Dad’s father, the suave American, much to the consternation of the family became the Reverend J. D. This breach of tradition caused my grandmother to be disinherited. Her man studied and worked hard to become a trusted leader in the Christian community. My grandmother taught school and gave music lessons to support their growing family of two girls and three boys. Behind closed doors the persuasive, softly spoken Pastor morphed into a sneak. He watched for opportunities to be alone with his daughters, and used each instance to groom them to his touch. It began softly, even sweetly. He played favorites, and pitted the girls against each other. His sons took it all in. Dad’s mom did too, and as a result suffered several nervous break downs in those early years. Fast forward twelve years. Control, secrecy, fear, religious hypocrisy, lies and abuse slowly twisted the family dynamic. Each youngster absorbed something of this kinky madness along with their morning porridge. Strict discipline went hand in hand with whipping the boys for disobedience. Then at night they were tucked into bed with stories of God’s love. Confusion reigned.
My Dad, being the eldest was his ‘mother’s responsible helper,’ becoming the head of the house when his father was away officiating in various rural congregations. My Dad was in charge of chores, helped cook, and played piano for the local church services. But, when ‘the Reverend was in the home’, his controlling abuses brought mutilation. While his wife was recovering from the birth of their fourth child a young house girl came to help with the daily chores. One afternoon Dad, went to the panty to get butter from the churn. In the dimness he stumbled into the entwined bodies of his panting father and the teenage servant girl. Shock, stung him to the core. Blinded by tears he ran to the barn, hiding behind their faithful mare. Out of sight and leaning into the docile beast he cried until he could cry no more. Finally he dabbed his tears away with his hand, and wiped his nose on his sleeve. Later, that day when he carried a tea tray to his sick mother; twisted imagines of entwined bodies forced their way back into his consciousness.The torment caused him to swallow hard to rid the bitterness that filled his dry mouth. Perspiration ran down his back, and made his hands as cold as ice. Quickly, he set the tray on her bed, and fled the room, not daring to hold her gaze. In recalling the event sixty years later, Dad divulged: “something in me died that day at the age of twelve…”
Under the domain of their father, a religious sexual predator, the family lived in a war zone. The children never knew when an ‘incident’ would happen. The atmosphere of tension and stress took its toll. It could be a severe physical thrashing for the boys, or sexual games with the girls. Each knew when the other was being molested. Nerves and sensitivities grew raw. The family secret buried in each heart began to fester. It was never spoken among themselves, never!
They were all actors. The family learned the art of cover up from their clever and diabolical father. My grandmother capitulated to grandpa’s marital unfaithfulness and incest. Way back then, the molestation of my life, and the lives of so many others was set into motion. Only decades later this disease would be perpetuated against the granddaughters of my generation.
Grandma became more compliant and silent with each passing year. It took all of her strength to keep herself in the role of the dutiful Pastors wife. She succumbed to his mental quirks, which I have no doubt led to various degrees of insanity. If I have learned anything, it is this: “Sexual assault breaks the mind!” Unable to come to terms with the reality she grew weak. Her gentle, artistic, sensitive person was trampled into oblivion. She was no match for his tricks. Her ‘man of the cloth’ was in fact ’a wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Consequently, my Dad and his brothers and sisters were all compromised, some more than others. They were performers. Taught by his mother, Dad grew into a promising pianist at a very young age. He learned the classics and sacred music. He was groomed to be the church pianist. But as he grew older blues, jazz, boogie-woogie and soul music made him popular with his pals. Music was a welcome diversion from the endless smut hurt and hypocrisy.
The children grew tall and quickly learned not to show emotion when on or off of public display. Sexual conditioning marked each one. Religion became a game, something to be endured. The family masqueraded as a model family. Looking in from the outside it appeared that respect and fidelity were the order of the day. Whole communities looked up to them, and even to this day, you can find those who still extoll the virtues of this hypocritical family. Only time would tell how the disease played out in their marriages and families. The years of shame and disappointment slowly but surely formed thick callouses over once tender minds and hearts.
Contrary to common belief, Grandpa was a pedophile who could control his sexual urges. Oh yes, he was a predator, like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse. He was a master at waiting for the right moment. He was a risk taker. Did he ever get caught? I don’t think so because ‘secrecy’ was the name of the game. Also he was cunning and selective, preferring little girls. The disease of incest is rooted in generational pathways unless it is exposed, rooted out and destroyed. Yes, sadly this curse was incubated right into my Dad’s generation. Sadly, when grandpa’s kids grew up, they became the next generation of predators. As the eldest granddaughter, I was a prime target from birth. My father, one uncle and an aunt were perpetrators. Their subtle attacks continued unchecked right under the noses of their spouses who had no experience with this disease. One has to experience this insanity to believe that it is even possible. Silence continued to reign.
After just one encounter, instinctively I knew at the age of three, that I must never be alone with my Grandfather again. I knew I was unsafe in their home but never told a soul. My inane protest as a tiny girl was to watch and run. Over time, my father also began to groom me. The abuse he suffered made him a selfish, brutish, rough man. I learned to keep my distance.
What a nasty business! By this time, my Dad had worked to groom me, but I resisted. He tricked me when we were alone in the car on a deserted back road. He encouraged me to try steering his new Oldsmobile. “Come and sit between my legs.” he ordered. I was trapped, and his fingers did their dirty work.” Now any vestige of trust I had in him dissolved. After I had been caught, I was intent upon ‘watching’ and listening. Instinct told me who I could and could not trust. I learned to listen to my instincts as I grew older. Every survivor knows the reality of isolation. My mind was focused on protecting myself. I felt like I was always on the outside looking in. I grew skeptical as I matured and very analytical. I could size up the atmosphere in a room, by simply entering it. I became hyper-alert and anxious with a badly damaged trust factor. In those early years when still a young and vulnerable girl these mechanisms helped me to survive.
At age nine Dad tried to rape me in my bed in the midst of the dark night. I am still shocked at the truth of my childhood. I have been at war with incest from the age of three when I didn’t even know what it was called. But, I knew with every beat of my heart that it was sick! I look back and remember very clearly, but the pain no longer has any hold on me. I don’t think I could have survived without the courageous and loving care of my mother. I talked to her about what Dad was doing to me. I clearly remember how distraught she was. She sought help for me. Doctors did nothing. She found people to pray for me with loving kindness. At least she tried! Not many daughters in an incestuous family can say that.
When it came to my uncle that was another matter all together. He was as slippery as an eel, and lived in denial. His reprehensible sexual exploits began when I was a tiny tot. At the time, I was being baby sat in my paternal Grandparents home. He denied raping me as a baby, even though my mother confirmed it because of blood stains on my crib sheet. I only learned about it through a very disturbing yet recurring dream and found the courage to ask my mother if it was true or not? She turned white, but gave me the decency of confirming that, “Yes, what you have dreamt was in fact true!” I was so shocked at this truth that I was silent and never thought of asking questions. I spare my readers the ugly details of the dream.
When I was 14, mother warned me to move into the home of this uncle and his wife for a short while until my dad settled down. When drunk, he bragged about ‘getting me’. At the time my mother was caring for this uncle’s young pre-school children. Mom was in their home and I felt safe. I waited quietly for her at the kitchen table reading. My uncle entered silently behind me, no one was near, and he sexually assaulted me by grabbing my shoulders. Before I could think, he planted his mouth firmly over mine. Like lightening he forced his slimy tongue down my throat. I still feel revolted and cringe at the memory. Rage rose up in me, but I could say nothing. I kept a diary and that night when I went to bed, I wrote about this weird incident. The following day, my uncle caught me alone in the hallway and whispered, “I read your diary, you must never say anything about this to my wife your Auntie, it would kill her.”
I said nothing but thought, “What about me?” I packed up my small bag and left their home moments later never to return.
My uncle’s sister, my aunt, had also been affected by sexual abuse and showed perverseness. The same year my uncle preyed upon me, while supposedly being sheltered in his home; she too troubled me. She grabbed me when no one was present and french kissed me. It was the same assault pattern Then three years later, she loaned me a dress for the senior prom and insisted upon ‘dressing’ me. “Oh, she exclaimed upon seeing my body, your husband is going to love your breasts!” I was mortified and turned beat red with embarrassment. What is it about these people? They mutilate innocence. What is it with them? She tried to manipulate me by ignoring me one minute and falling all over me the next. I never knew where I stood. She was insanely jealous of her older sister, and foolishly told me, a high school girl at the time, about her own extra-marital affairs. I remained silent but never forgot. It was a kind of mental abuse.
The years of hypocrisy created a sense of internal desperation and even helplessness at times. During my years at home I was ‘shut down’. It was impossible to bring a friend home. I was constantly ashamed of my father’s binge drinking. Never did he hug me without having to protect my breasts. I was very aware of dad’s unfaithfulness to my mother and this caused me severe pain. As his family, we felt that we were in his way. We got the message that we meant nothing to him. I remained separate and felt different. I searched for meaning and a reason to live. I didn’t understand all of the turmoil and longings in my young heart. I cried often and prayed daily to experience a life worth living. I knew we were caught. Our ‘religious’ relatives looked down upon us with a smug pity, which only made me more determined to get out of this sickening system. Bitterness hid itself deep within me, part of me felt frozen.
Grappling with this disease has been the supreme ongoing internal struggle of my life. It clouded who I was, and who I felt I had to be? The confusion and sense of dismemberment was crippling. It forced me to question everything and think out of the box. I had to make a conscious effort to ’choose’ to live and determine never to tire of resisting evil wherever I encountered it. Because I was silenced for decades, I had no voice. I learned to determinedly reject, resist, stand up, and distance myself. It took decades until I could speak out.
I never thought of going to the authorities to expose the horrors perpetuated by my grandfather, father and uncle. My priority at age seventeen was to get as far away as possible from my family and do something significant with my life. I felt smothered by their cramped thinking, and my limited world. The willful blindness, coverup and silence was debilitating. Upon graduation from high school, I moved out of my parental home. My thirst for knowledge and life was an enormous gift, which lead me out into life. With virtually no choice for a career due to hard economic circumstances, I laid aside my hopes of being a fashion designer. For the next three years I lived in the protective, educational and disciplined environment of a Canadian Nursing school. It proved to be the incubator in which I flourished. I saw a broad spectrum of life as raw and real as it is. In the process, gratefully I was forced to grow and develop as a person. I learned to treasure others in their diversity and uniqueness. It gave me a professional platform from which I could reach out to help others.
Upon graduation from nursing, I offered to make a safe home for my mother and sisters in a distant city. But it was not to be. I did what I could, but, again had to walk away. I could not save them. I still carry deep inside, some regret and sadness. I offered a way of escape but my mother refused to leave her husband and her home. Consequently her daughters were sacrificed. The good thing was, now I was free to get on with my own life, and I did. But, I continued to have more questions than answers. Sadly, I found no one to talk to which added to my pain.
Canadian University Service Overseas afforded me the once in a life time opportunity to nurse indigenous tribes in India. That experience was life changing. Then I spent my second year with CUSO nursing Tibetan refugees and orphans while working together with Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. That was amazing. With limited language skills in Asia, I learned about real communication. Human beings can speak face to face in many ways, yes, even without words. Wisdom was the companion I sought. I was enriched and grew able to love others and even myself a little more with each passing year. Only then could I consider marriage. I continue to experience the beauty of similarities in lives vastly different from my own. I became convinced that secrecy keeps one mute, agreeable, nice, manageable, bland and usually ineffective.
My paternal grandmother enabled grandpa’s sick behavior. Don’t tell me that she didn’t know he sexually deflowered every granddaughter in the privacy of their home, usually when she was having an ‘afternoon nap’. In my childhood home, it is a fact, my Mom enabled my Dad. Yes, she tried to find help for me, but by the time my other sisters arrived, I think she was just worn out with it all and succumbed to his brutality.
The abuse continued to grow over the years… it is a disease and unless checked disease grows! Quietly it was played out in different scenarios in the five families of Dad and his siblings. Where does it all end? The truth is, it never does once the damage has been done. Yes one can ‘choose life’ and move on, but not everyone does. Granting forgiveness brings peace and distance, but what was done remains a permanent stain upon our lives. My brother, (one has died) and my sisters and I can discuss some of it among ourselves after the fact. We choose to go on and make the world a better place, while fighting for our own families and marriages; but scars remain along with vivid memories.
After decades, I was finally able to confront my Dad with the hurt he had caused us all. At that time he immediately asked for forgiveness. His humble, whispered acknowledgment with bowed head had a profound effect upon me. When he acknowledged his wicked behavior, I grew even more quiet. At that moment, a door opened in my heart. For the first time since I was a small child, I felt relief for myself and pity for him. He was able for the first time to open up about his own tormentded childhood. Yes, I agree, there is no excuse for his own reprehensible behavior. No excuse at all. But, he made no excuses! I made a decision and chose to forgive my wretched Dad. He was sorry and showed remorse. Something changed in us both. At that point in my late thirties, I was able to stand back, let go and walk away. My heart continued to ache for my sisters and mother who remained in the home with him.
My paternal grandfather died of prostate cancer. He languished on a sick bed for years. My perverse aunt became more hateful as the years passed, I found it too painful to be near her, for she loved to attack and accuse me. I kept my distance, until I was called to her death bed to pray over her, which I did with a quiet heart. Still years later, as an experienced and mature woman, I finally gathered the courage to challenge my uncle about his reprehensible abuse. First I wrote him a letter, which is a legal document and listed the scriptural precedent for approaching one who has become an offense. I sent the letter via registered mail to his daughter to spare his wife. Then I made arrangements to meet with him in his office. He moved nervously behind his desk, acting very superior, as only he could do. He glared threateningly at me as if to intimidate me. I laid the charges out clearly. He was swift to deny raping me as an infant. Now was now, his enemy. When I did not budge or flinch, he put his head back, and let our a weird dry crisp laugh exclaiming; “I have enough testosterone for three men.”
Ignoring his attempt at shaming and intimidating me, I demanded, “Are you daring to call my mother a liar?” He remained stoney faced and silent averting my gaze.
I rose to my feet, walked out and never to saw him again.
A few years later he was diagnosed a ‘paranoid-psychopathic’ with dementia’. His wife and I remained friends for 62 years. Never a word was spoken about his failings. She suggested that I not attend his funeral. I thought was her way of telling me that she ‘knew’.
My Dad’s generation have all passed away now. What about the obvious sense of ‘sorry’? Aren’t we ALL sorry? What about my Grandfather and Uncle who hid behind the facade of religion and respectability of public service? These men never acknowledged their murderous acts. And grandma? Where is her ‘sorry’? Was there no degree of remorse? Yes, I believe there was, but only between her and God. She fasted and wept every Monday of her life as long as I knew her. Grandpa and grandma sent me off to an expensive Christian College for Grade 10 and my sisters and cousins to Christian summer camps. Was that to ease their conscience or ours? Was he saying, “Good girls, you kept your mouths shut?” How many pedophiles go to their graves unrepentant and unforgiven having never acknowledged their sin and denied their victims any sense of closure?
I pursued higher education, because I wanted to be prepared in every way to reach out to those who have suffered the indecencies I endured as a child. Sexual abuse is, to me, the greatest indignity any child can experience. “Indelible Stains” is the working title of my latest book on the subject. In it I trace episodes in the lives of former clients from many parts of the globe. Together we worked to bring them out of the depths of child sexual abuse. I see this latest book as a vital on going work, in which I also explain “the keys of life and death.” Matthew 16:16-19 They were indeed, the keys that helped me to heal, and I continue to employ the principals today. They enabled me to find sanity and to maintain peace of mind. The echoes, shadows and memories of the past now do not haunt me. For this I am eternally grateful.
Speaking out about sexual child abuse back in the 1920’s and 1930’s during my father’s youth, and the 1940’s and 1950’s of mine, and the 1960’s of my younger siblings was quite unheard of. At the time such teachings were rare. The toxic abuse continued to move down our family line unabated all of those years. Thankfully because of godly teachers and friends, I was able to break out of the vicious cycle. Then when I got a good measure of health, and completed my education in psychology, doors began to open for me to speak out, teach and counsel the abused, the sexually assaulted and the broken. Surprisingly I began in Germany and Switzerland. Since then I have travelled the globe helping to bring healing and deliverance to many through God’s help.
In the original context of the extended family on Dad’s side, the intrigue and untruths remain fixed right down into our very foundations. My siblings and I still grapple with what we chose to leave. Yes, part of us is splintered. There is only a slender degree of openness among us. But it is growing. Extended family distance themselves from me; still uncomfortable in the face of ugly realities. It is easier to reject and ignore than embrace those who may remind us of our own woundings. To many of my first cousins I remain a persona non grata. It is so much easier to ignore, reject, snub and deny than befriend. Kindness is a very precious commodity. Several of us have embraced the faith of our fathers. We are eternally grateful to those family members on my Mom’s side who stepped in and filled some of the gaps with lovingkindness. Time and again they sheltered us through many storms.
My husband, of fifty years, a documentarist has stood with me. Our four sons are four generations removed from my Dad’s father, who was born in 1885. I taught them openly about the pit falls of sexual abuse that my siblings and I endured. Our eldest son led his brothers in this vow: “The disease of incest will never be named among us! Not on our watch!” In seminars, I have spoken to many parents who have never disclosed the abuse they endured to their children,. “How will our children learn, if we do not prepare them for life?” These men actively work to protect their children; our grandchildren. They all work in media and we have given them opportunities to document my work with abuse. They help me educate a worldwide audience on how to escape, stand up, get free and stay free; which is a life long process. We have worked together over many years, at different times and in different nations to create films, CD’s, websites and TV shows which expose the plight of incest among the faith community at large. For the past four years we are working for the plight of the sex trafficked youth in Nepal. Our TV documentary on this subject is called, CAN – Change Action Nepal – “You CAN Make a Difference”
Thankfully the younger generation have a new reality. By combining my experience and their technical abilities, we are able to educate individuals haunted and hunted by predatory molesters. We work to see this generation strengthened with truth, knowledge and ‘can do’ attitudes. They can take my work and create broader avenues to approach this enormous global need realistically. Together we have the power to bring change. They possess the skills and technology required to challenge and change the world. Over half of our youth on this conflicted globe live with the violence of war, terrorism and sexual abuse. Together we can change this dilemma to make the world a more compassionate place by serving together.
If sexual abuse is part of your experience and you have done nothing about it, find someone that you trust and begin by speaking with them. Don’t stay the way you are. In private counseling I see withered lives revived. Creating a safe place is an art. Join me in helping to provide privacy, time and a listening heart to others. What about the predators who cannot resist mutilating the minds, souls and bodies of the most vulnerable members of society? They remain among the most dangerous human beings alive. Their workshop continues right within the sacred space of the family. What will we do about it?
In closing, ask yourself, “What happened to Mr Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul turned monster?” No doubt the seeds of his sickness were sown deep within the private confines of his own childhood home. And my Grandfather… who brutalized his childhood?
“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 56:13
You shall no longer be termed forsaken.
The LORD delights in you.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name;
you are Mine!
Isaiah 62: 4 a,c. Isaiah 43:1a, Isaiah 49:16a.